Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)

At the beginning of Term 1, 2019 I was looking for a focus for inquiry. Starting my first term teaching at a new school I initially thought I would like to focus my inquiry on finding ways to include and incorporate student and whanau voice into the geography program. However, I quickly Continue reading “Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)”

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Deadlines and having high expectations

Throughout 2017, I had trouble in most of my senior classes with students handing in work by the agreed deadline. While I initially tried to enforce strict deadlines, students didn’t really seem to take these deadlines very seriously. On several occasions in my level 1 and 3 classes students would just completely ignore the deadline and as a result I would then give the entire class an extension – feeling like this was perhaps because I hadn’t given students enough time for their assessment.

However, towards the end of 2017 I came to realise my enabling of missing deadlines was an unfair approach to assessments. On the one hand I felt that giving students more time was better than them not gaining credits for their incomplete work. However, this seemed unfair for small minority of students that did work hard in class to complete work by the deadline. It meant effectively I was favouring some students over others and some students were getting a lot of extra time to complete work. For some students they were then gaining; achieved,  merit or excellence grades while other students who were handing in on top potentially could have gained a higher grade if they were given the same amount of time. Furthermore, students did in fact have plenty of time in class to complete their assessments but because they were no real consequences for missing deadlines and too many second and third chances this meant student were developing poor time management skills in class. If I wanted my students to develop strong time management skills and take deadlines seriously I needed to address this issue. I knew I was setting students up to fail later in life (at university or workplaces) if I didn’t foster a sense of urgency around work completion. I realised  I needed to establish a clear extension policy early on and follow through on this policy.

As noted my level 1 and 3 classes seemed to have a pretty relaxed approach to work completion and deadlines however, this didn’t to seem to be as much of an issue in my level 2 class. I realised this was because I had set some clear expectations with this class at the start of the year. I had gotten students in this class to apply for an extension on their first assessment prior to the deadlines.

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As you can see on the form students were required to reflect and take responsibility for meeting the new deadline. As a result of doing this early on with my level 2 Geography class I think this meant students took their deadlines a little more seriously than my other senior classes.

At the end of 2017 during a Social Studies Department meeting my colleagues and I were discussing the challenges of getting students to take deadlines seriously. I shared my application for extension form with my department and we decided to use this and implement a department policy. This would involve students applying for an extension (prior to the deadline). A phone call would be made home to inform parents/caregivers. This would then be signed off by the classroom teacher and then given to the HOD. The HOD would then talk to the student and approve or decline the extension.

The policy was made clear with students in the first week of classes and a letter was sent home to all Social Science students informing parents/caregivers of the policy.

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The process was made clear with students and the deadlines were set early on so this meant students knew exactly what was expected of them in terms of assessments and deadlines. The expectation being deadlines would be taken seriously and there was a clear process on how to get an extension. This meant that it was fair for all students – those that needed more time needed a legitimate excuse and their were clear steps for them to follow if they needed an extension. This policy was discussed with students in week 1 and the assessment calendar was shared with them.

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Reflecting on this policy at the end of term 2 I think it has been successful in getting students to take their deadlines seriously and there is definitely a sense of clarity around what is expected in terms of taking responsibility for completing work on time and taking ownership if an extension is required.  There is definitely more of sense of urgency and stronger work ethic in class leading up to a deadline.

PLUG Groups PLD 2018

As mentioned in earlier posts at Tamaki College teachers meet regularly (every 2 weeks) to discuss and collaborate on how to best help priority learners with their academic achievement. In particular, students who have 0 credits in a number of subjects. In 2017 we focused on Level 1 and Level 2 students. However, in 2018 we will just be focusing on Level 1 students. As my Level 1 class only has 7 students there is only one student I am focusing on within the PLUG group discussions who prior to meeting in our groups had 0 credits in Geography.

I wasn’t really sure why this student wasn’t achieving  in geography. While attendance was a bit of an issue she worked hard when she was in class and cared about her academic success. I mentioned to her Science teacher who is also in my PLUG group that I had found her writing to be a bit of a problem. This student’s writing was at times overly descriptive and perhaps better suited for creative writing or perhaps speech writing. However, this didn’t really work in geography. Her science teacher also commented on some issues with her writing.

After this conversation I decided to pursue this further by talking to the student one on one and giving feedback. I suggested she use grammerly and regularly share her work with me so I could comment on her writing (as well as content). We have been doing this were possible and since then this student has achieved 3 credits in geography and I have noticed a vast improvement in her writing style.

Level 2 research trip – where to build an ice-cream shop?

For the research standard AS91244 “Conduct Geographic Research with Direction” in 2017 my Level 2 class looked at “Where to build a new coffee shop?”. For the field work in previous years the class had gone to Auckland’s CBD (Queen Street) to determine where we should build a new coffee shop? Students did pedestrian counts and surveys in several different locations over a day. However, my first year planning this trip I decided to take the class to Glen Innes shops. The logic behind this was that this would be an environment that students had some prior knowledge and could hopefully make some meaningful connections to their research.

However, I learnt this was not the best decisions – the class expressed their embarrassment about researching in their own community. I realised I had missed up and let my own perspective cloud my judgement. To me Glen Innes was an interesting place to research (I had written my MA thesis on Glen Innes). I quickly regretted this decision and admitted my mistake to the class. They were pretty understanding and didn’t let their embarrassment get in the way of their research project. This year I knew I had to think more carefully about the research location. I also realised that deciding where a new coffee shop should be located wasn’t the most culturally responsive topic for Tamaki College students. To my students coffee culture was really limited to a cup of instant coffee in the morning and the concept of going out to buy coffee was pretty foreign to most students. However, I had already made a lot of significant changes to the level 2 program this year (Ihumatao and hip hop)and didn’t feel like I had the time to create more resources and design a whole new assessment.

I spoke to my HOD about this during our regular catch ups and she agreed designing new content was too much work. We looked on the AGTA website but the resources on their didn’t really speak to our students either. We both contacted some other geography teachers but didn’t hear back and eventually I emailed the AGTA asking for some material. They provided me with resources for “Where to build a new ice cream shop”. The field trip was planned out for 4 locations on Auckland’s North Shore. I was initially reluctant about taking students to the North Shore (again letting my own perspective cloud my judgement) because to me the North Shore was a bit like Glen Innes was to my students as this was where I grew up and therefore to me wasn’t really an interesting place to research. However, I decided to try out the field trip that had already been tried and tested rather than coming up with my own locations. This turned out to be a really good decision.

On the day students arrived early and were ready to leave by 9am – this was particularly impressive since there is often an issue with lateness for period 1 and 2 classes. We hit the road and arrived at Orewa (our first location). Students had a booklet to work through that require them to make specific notes on the location, count pedestrians and interview people. Students were working closely together in groups to complete their tasks. 45 minutes was a good amount of time because it kept the class busy and focused and engaged in the activity. We then moved to the remaining locations; Silverdale, Takapuna and Devonport. By the end of the day students were buzzing they were having a great time and for some this was their first time ever crossing the harbour bridge! One student asked another student who was sitting up front to change the radio station to “Mai Fm” – the student replied “I don’t think you can get 88.6 out of Auckland!!!

This comment in particular made me realise how important taking students out of their own environment was. I needed to be more aware that my lived experience was very different to the kids I was teaching – some very rarely leaving GI – taking students to new places to explore is really something geography has to offer students at Tamaki and I really needed to remember that when planning field trips in the future. While we were in Devonport a couple of students mentioned they had never been on the ferry. Perhaps this is an experience I can give students next year on the Ice-cream shop field trip!

Literacy strategies – Year 10 Amazon paragraph writing

Literacy is a significant issue for students at Tamaki College. Students tend to be well below the National Standards for both reading and writing. During Term 1 the Social Science department met with the Literacy Specialist at Tamaki College (Marc Milford) to discuss his writing plan for 2018. During this session he shared his plan with us and discussed strategies would could use in our Social Studies classes to improve literary.

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During this session Marc gave some suggestions of strategies we could use in our Social Studies classes. One I liked in particular was the “Judge group writing task”.

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I decided to try this with my Year 10 class latter in the week. I asked Marc to come along and observe and help judge. During a double period I set this up as I had already planned to get students to write a paragraph on the Amazon. I explained they could write the paragraph in groups and then we would write them up the next day and “judge them”. There would be a small prize (chocolates) for the best paragraph. Students took the task very seriously and began writing their practice paragraphs in groups.

The next day Marc came in and gave the class a little more guidance and some tips on how to improve their paragraphs. Students seemed to be excited to get into the writing. Once they had revised their paragraphs students wrote there one up on the board. Marc gave a quick explanation of strengths and weaknesses of each paragraph and then gave a grade out of 5.

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Some refections: Overall, this was a really fun engaging activity that students enjoyed. When I asked students about how they felt the task went they said they enjoyed it but needed more time. Perhaps this task would be better over a double period rather than a single to allow students more time to write. It would be useful for students to do this fairly regularly and then gradually build up to students judging each others work (with guidance).

Changes to Level 2 – Contemporary Issue. Ihumatao, Otuataua, Stonefields.

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the course content. In particular to AS94245 – contemporary issue. Last year students had looked at whether or not a rail link should be built to Auckland’s International Airport. However, students (and myself) were not really engaged in this issue. As noted in my previous post about teaching Child Poverty in my level 1 class I feel it’s important to teach content that I find interesting and exciting to teach as enthusiasm can be contagious – this is especially important for issue related content. One of the reasons I think geography is such an important subject is for it’s potential to engage students in the world that we are living in.

Students are Tamaki College, living in Glen Innes are living the realities of a significant redevelopment project happening in their community. When I have discussed this in class with students this seems to be an issue they feel passionate about and are keen to discuss and debate in class. The Level 2 Social Studies class looks at this redevelopment and the perspectives around it and since their were some strong parallels between what is happening in Glen Innes (in particular with the Point England reserve) and Ihumatao.  I felt that this might provide students with an opportunity to draw links and think about issues a little deeper – especially for those who were taking both Social Studies and Geography.

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Additionally, Ihumatao is a good example of the Treaty of Waitangi in a contemporary context. Highlighting to students the Treaty is not simply a historical document that has been left behind. Rather, that is has implications in todays society too.

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Since Ihumatao is a local issue (located in Mangere, Auckland) this also provided an excellent field trip opportunity. I contacted organisers from SOUL (Save our Unique Landscape) to see if they were willing to take the class through and discuss their various perspectives with students. SOUL were happy to accomodate us and we organised a trip to visit the land. This was a fantastic way for students to see the land, hear stories and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, archeological and historical significance of Ihumatao. Students then returned to school with a deeper understanding of the issue and heard a variety of perspectives on the issue (SOUL had 4 different speakers talk to the class!).

On reflection it is important to reflect on and change units of work in class and attempt to find issues that engage students and me as their teacher especially in a subject like geography that allows students to explore the world we are living in. Using locally based issues can be a powerful way to bring the issue to live for students especially when field trip opportunities are available. This can allow students to explore the issue and different perspectives first hand rather than reading off a website – this is especially valuable for students whose literacy levels are not good. Lastly, it is important as a teacher of social sciences to keep topics fresh and relevant!

 

Child poverty in Aotearoa, New Zealand – new unit level 1 geography, 2018

In my second year of teaching I wanted to make some changes to the level 1 program. Previously at level 1 students looked at the Waterview Connection as a contemporary issue. However, this felt slightly outdated as the Waterview Connection was build in 2017. I wanted to try something new that would be a little more engaging for students at Tamaki College. I decided to try a unit on Child Poverty in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Students were required to describe the issue, explore different perspectives and discuss solutions. I found this to be particularly fun to teach since students in my Level 1 class seemed to feel passionate about the issue of child poverty and were keen to participate in class discussion (something I struggled to get students to do with the Waterview connection unit).

While the class were able to describe the issue in detail (perhaps an issue a little closer to home for many TC students than the Waterview tunnel) I noticed exploring different perspectives was a bit of a challenge. I asked a friend of mine from Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to come and speak to the class from her perspective.

This was an awesome experience as the class were engaged and interested in what she had to see. This perhaps made it a bit easier for students to identify a unique perspective as it was being told to them first hand.

My HOD asked her to come to her Level 3 Social Studies class to talk to some students who were looking at the issue as well. The feedback from these students was incredibly positive and students felt inspired to make positive social change in the future. One student even said to me “Was that your friend, she’s so cool. I want to be like her when I’m older. How did she get into working for AAAP”.  Having guest speakers is definitely a great way to bring perspectives and current issues to life and see how real people are making positive change in New Zealand’s society.

Changing the unit also reminded me it is important as a teacher to teach topics that you as the teacher feel passionate about – students definitely pick up on enthusiasm (or lack of it) and being genuinely interested in a topic can contribute to a positive and engaging learning environment.

 

 

 

 

Changes to Level 2 – hip hop unit some reflections

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the Level 2 course content. As mentioned in previous posts I had already made some changes to the program. I wanted to the program overall to be more engaging and culturally responsive to the students I was teaching. A lot of the current content had come from text books or from the AGTA (Auckland Geographers Teachers Association). I wanted the program to be a little more relatable for the students I was teaching. At SOC CON 2017 I looked at the resources provided by Geostuff and a unit on hip hop grabbed my attention. A lot of my students listened to hip hop and RnB and felt this could engage a number of students in a more meaningful way.

This new unit was for AS91426 – Explain a geographical topic at a global scale. Students were to identify the global pattern of hip hop, explain the causes and significance for people. Perhaps a little more exciting than HIV/AIDS.

Some reflections – the class really seemed to enjoy the topic and the content. However, the pattern and causes were a little challenging – especially since a lot of the class were new to geography and had no prior knowledge. Secondly, the way I presented the content was a bit all over the place – I really needed to break down the causes and give students more examples of this rather than getting them to identify these themselves from the resource booklet. This was perhaps ok for the students who had taken geography at level 1 or students who were a bit more academic but I had a really diverse group of learners in the class this year and could have perhaps provided a lot more scaffolding for some students to make the pattern, causes and significance for people a bit more explicit. Especially considering this was the first unit of work we had covered for the year and the key geographic concepts were very new to a lot of my students. For next year I will scaffold more and take more time on key concepts – especially patterns (which can be a bit challenging)!

Reflections on geography exam results 2017

The results for the 2017 NCEA geography externals have recently come back. This is an important opportunity to reflect on how my students went and what can be done to improve for the 2018 externals. Prior to these results coming back I knew there were 3 key challenges my students faced when sitting their NCEA externals:

Attendance was a concern – not just in terms of turning up to the externals but also attendance in class prior to the externals – particularly level 3 students who had missed a significant amount of in class teaching and learning. Unfortunately, the students that hadn’t been turning up to class for a large chunk of time throughout the year (to their credit) made the effort to turn up to the external. However, this unfortunately meant these students were likely lacking a lot of the material required for them to do well in the exam. However, a number of students who had attended class decided to not turn up to the external.  Here is a break down of the 2017 exam attendance:

Level 1: Overall, 10 students were entered in 2 externals 91007 and 91009 on the day 6 out of 10 students turned up to the exam and only 4 students sat 91009 and only 6 sat 91007. 2 out of the 6 students received and achieved grade for both external.s

Level 2: Overall, 19 students were entered in 2 externals 91240 and 91242 and on the day 6 students turned up to the exam with only 5 sitting 91240 and 6 sitting 91242. Only 2 students achieved in these externals (1 achieving 91240 and 1 achieving 91242).

Level 3: Overall, 12 students were entered in the 2 externals 91426 and 91427, on the day only 5 students turned up with most students only sitting one external (despite preparing for both). 3 students achieved in these externals overall.

Takeaway learnings/reflections: Based on my conversations with students after the exams – the majority of students at level 1, 2, and 3 despite intending to sit both externals on the day students were thrown off after reading the exam question and although some students were simply unprepared (due to the previously mentioned lack of attendance in class). The remaining students were prepared but lacked confidence when the wording of the question differed from their practice exams. This is something I will be working with students on during 2018 and I would like to explore this further as part of my “Teaching as Inquiry”.

Teaching as Inquiry – Literacy in Year 12 Geography – Term 3, 2017 #5

While my Year 12’s geography class’ writing had significantly improved since term 1 with the focus on structure; in particular topic sentences and evidence. As noted in post 4 (term 2) the class were still lacking skills to link and focus their key points. While after marking their research assessment I felt their explanations were a lot stronger than they had previously been this showed me they perhaps had a better level of understanding. However, after completed there 3rd assessment I noticed their explanations were still lacking significantly. I reflected on why this might be the case.

As the research assessment reuqires students to summarise their explanations may have been stronger in this context because this was their own data and information they were drawing from. We had collected the data in Glen Innes over 2 days and since the context was familiar students may have had a lot more confidence in writing about this environment. This pointed me to look at the level of reading comprehension for the Year 12’s. Perhaps a lack of understanding was coming through in their written expression. While students seemed to be able to give good examples or evidence the why seemed to be missing.

This lack of explanation linked to reading comprehension made complete sense to me. I thought about my own writing experience. If I don’t know about a topic I struggle to write on it but if I feel confident then the words seem to flow a whole lot better. This reflection is further supported by literacy data at Tamaki College with a significant number of students being well below the national average. I was teaching some Year 9 students (13 year olds) where a reading age of 7 or 8 was pretty common. Even if these students just went up a minimum of one reading year per school year level (without our accelerated reader program) by the time they reached Year 12 it was possible a number of students in the class were reading at a 12 year old level. Although this may not be entirely representative of the students in my geography class it was a useful rough guide to help me think through what I may to change within my teaching practice. A lot of the text I was providing this class were adapted from a text book aimed for Year 12 students – this meant that there were likely to be some issues with comprehension for a number of students in the class – this made sense as to why they were struggling to explain ideas in their written expression.

Next steps from here – I needed to change what I was doing in the classroom in the way I was providing content. I needed to adapt to suit the learning needs and literacy levels of student in my Year 12 class at Tamaki College.